Noting Friday's seven-day extension of the current collective bargaining agreement, Bengals safety Chris Crocker offered this weather report from his part of Chicago:
"It's a little bit brighter today than it was yesterday at midnight," Crocker said after the NFL and NFL Players Association avoided a lockout for the second straight day. "It's good news. It's a positive. But there's still a long way to go."
But the NFL is going nowhere during the extension because there is a freeze on all transactions and while teams can continue to talk to agents, the financial year has yet to start so there can be no signings or trades. No players can be released, either.
The sense from the principals interviewed on NFL Network as the sides broke for the weekend is that there was enough progress to keep talking, but not enough to resolve big issues with the biggest the revenue split. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals NFLPA representative, wasn't sure the extension all but means a new CBA is going to be in place by next Friday. But he does think the negotiations next week tell the tale because he doesn't see another extension beyond March 11.
"We're at a point where it's pretty fragile," Whitworth said. "If there's not a deal now, it's not going to be pretty. Whenever you stop talking, it seems to be for awhile. Why would you keep extending if you can't get any closer? But the good thing is they're still talking and the big thing is to get this done for the fans. Both sides have to keep that in mind that there's no game without them."
Crocker agrees that if a deal doesn't get done by Friday, "There won't be one for a minute."
"If we do lock out, I don't think our owners are going to be in a hurry to get something done," Crocker said. "So it's important to keep the lines of communication open."
While the NFL remains in suspended business animation, the football side is still whirring.
The locker room and facilities are still open to the players.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, blissfully unaware of both extensions on Thursday and Friday, watched tape of college players.
The personnel department and coaches coordinated trips to campus workouts, the dates of which were verified this week at the NFL scouting combine.
Crocker, in Chicago, and Whitworth, in Louisiana, continue to train near their homes while kicker Mike Nugent gets another week to rehab his reconstructed knee in the Paul Brown Stadium training room.
But without a true salary cap number for the 2011 season, it is hard to get some deals done. That number is to be produced by the new CBA and since it's not here, neither is the cap. Knowing their two high-priority free agents are going to get significant deals, cornerback Johnathan Joseph and running back Cedric Benson, the Bengals appear to be cautious to enter into a major deal without knowing if the cap is going to be cut, expanded or stay the same.
The Bengals have sent out one-year tenders to restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents under the current CBA, but they haven't announced them like they have in the past because a new CBA would eliminate some of them. For instance, Joseph, his five-year rookie contract at an end, would be restricted under the current deal but an unrestricted free agent in the old deal that figures to be close to the new one. Quarterback Jordan Palmer, who has played three seasons, is restricted in this system and the old one.
Meanwhile, Whitworth keeps sending out his e-mails to his teammates. Since both sides knew this day was coming, there hasn't been a rush or urgency.
"I haven't had any calls today. I had a few texts yesterday," Whitworth said Friday afternoon. "The most asked question is about insurance and I'm just trying to make sure the guys fill out the right forms. I've been sending out this stuff for awhile now. If there had been a lockout today, I just would have sent something out next week."
The Bengals seem to feel they're in good hands with Whitworth.
"He has schooling far beyond my schooling," said linebacker Rey Maualuga. "He was actually sitting in (class) learning."
Whitworth and Crocker are impressed at the curtain of silence that has wrapped around the negotiations. Crocker and his 110 NFL games has been getting his information like anybody with zero career games.
"I've been reading the same things; just staying abreast of the situation and there's nothing much that I know," Crocker said. "There are so many issues. It's just like any argument. You can't resolve anything by putting it out in the public. It's just two sides. There's no need to air it all out. I can see why they're breaking. Heated discussions, it's probably a good idea to walk away and think about the issues."
With NFL business frozen, so is the Carson Palmer situation. But then again, it appears it is frozen anyway because the Bengals are showing no signs of trading him; CBA or no CBA.
Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who didn't get his trade request in '08, thinks Palmer is quite serious about retiring. Although Palmer has never said publicly himself he'll retire if the Bengals don't trade him. The Ocho, who's not even sure he's back, hopes Palmer's back if he is.
"Trust me. It's not in his nature to talk like that," The Ocho said. "He's sick of losing. It's crazy. He always takes most of the blame and he's sick of it. Yeah, people forget. They forget real fast. A quarterback like that comes around every so often. A quarterback like him is rare. Yeah, I hope he's back. He gives us our best chance to win."
Maualuga can feel Palmer's frustration.
"Just like everyone else, he's frustrated. Everyone doesn't want to lose," Maualuga said. "He's a grown man. He can make decisions and the right one, too. Why play knowing you don't want to be here? He'll always have my support. Hopefully at the end he'll be in the right place at the right time. I play defense. I'm just going to do my best to worry about how good this defense can become. The offense will be all right. They'll be good to go."
The Ocho didn't offer much on his offseason plans. He wouldn't say if he's had surgery on the ankle bone chips that knocked him out of the last two games, saying only, "My health is good." He says he hasn't decided yet if he'll participate in the May and June voluntaries, if there are any. But there is some uncertainty if he'll be back with the Bengals for the final year of his deal.
"I don't know," he said.